It’s Spring again, one of my favorite seasons. But this Spring is unmistakably different.
I check my phone, the temperature reads 70° F but the wind has a bite to it. The chill is disturbingly fitting for the events unfolding in the world beyond my little patch of Earth.
Out there it’s thick with anxiety and the constant threat of a cough that won’t stop. Snake like tubes. A loss of control. Death stalks the streets of both large city and small, hungry with a viciousness unlike anything I have ever seen before. And that said from someone who has seen the vicious turn of nature before. I volunteered for Katrina relief back in ’05.
But now I find myself sitting on the front porch at my family’s little home. We’re hunkered down together, riding out the storm. Dad is busy with one chore or another and mom is pacing from sewing projects to stories on the news.
My birthday is quickly approaching. I turned 35 last year, and it felt monumental. Now I’m facing 36 in a pandemic. There’s a lesson that ties these two years and the expectations I had for each together. It’s that we set ourselves up, sometimes telling ourselves believable lies with our ambitions, setting milestones without any real mindfulness for what’s uniquely true to our lives and our stories.
We accept cultural and societal expectations as our own, seldom slowing down long enough to consider whether it’s our truth or everyone else’s.
I can’t help but to consider the milestones we set for ourselves. The often quiet but sturdy landmarks we gauge our lives and progress against. Marriage, children, career, bank balances, retirement plans, vacations we can’t afford and degrees we may never use.
It all fell away during the events of these recent days like so much outgrown snakeskin. I am shedding time and insufficient societal expectations at a quicker pace than I had ever imagined or expected to. And as for all those milestones?
Lost to the passage of time or buried still in some unknown future. Who knows?
Life is mine to determine, even when chance changes the course on me.
I’m 35, facing 36 and God help us, old enough to run for President, not that I’d likely take the job if ever given the opportunity. Funny how life changes. I have a Masters in Political Science and have worked on political campaigns in the past. But the taste sours after a time. Besides, my heart belongs to poetry, to words, to the magnetic pull of a good story and to the pulse of creativity itself.
I am a person of high ambitions, larger than life dreams, and one who wrestles with the ugly feeling that I might not have enough time to accomplish even half of the things I hope to pull off before the curtain is drawn.
Even at my relatively young age, I can’t help but feel that time is against me.
Blame the pandemic. I suspect many of us are feeling this way right now. Frustrated with our ambitions, worried about our limited time on this wobbly ball. Hoping like hell to build or create something that can outlive us.
Everything has changed, but did it really? Did we ever really have control to start with? I don’t think we did. I think we just fooled ourselves into believing so.
My birthday is in July, same day as Tom Hanks, Fred Savage, Jack White, Jimmy Smits and a bunch of other creative and expressive types.
I’ve been old enough to be called an antique for a while, but now I’m also old enough to run a country, to have earned an Oscar, to have built an empire, to have amassed a great fortune and to have done God knows what else.
But, all I have to show for are the ghosts of these possibilities, and the dogged question that chases me: What have you done with your life?
Melody Wilding, LMSW writes, “Remember that 95 percent of the time finding oneself doesn’t happen in one major epiphany. Clarity comes in fits and spurts. Passion evolves.”
Sage advice to keep in mind as we face this larger than life question that finds its way to each of us eventually.
It’s tough facing our own reality sometimes. Especially when we want so many big things to happen.
I’m unmarried, never been married, and have never had any kids. I’ve never settled on a career, despite my heavy dose of higher Education. And while I have traveled the Eastern chunk of the U.S., I have yet to ever leave the country, or experienced the wider world beyond.
That’s not to suggest I don’t have a long list of people and things for which I am deeply grateful. This list — my gratitude list — is thankfully significantly longer. And it reminds me just how lucky I am.
Never married, but close to my family, to my friends. No career, but, plenty of challenging work (even having started and owned a business that I ran for a while). I have degrees and thank God, life skills to carry me. And though I haven’t traveled as far as I’d like to have, I have at least gotten to take some pretty great trips and had some adventures.
Life is found in the balance.
I’d like to lie and say that I don’t feel some kind of anxiety about getting older and falling short of the high ambitions I’ve set for myself. I do feel this anxiety. Maybe more now than ever. The unknown and its dominating presence is more present in my life than it has ever been before.
I try to quiet my mind with meditation, mindfulness, and even grounding myself in the present. Sometimes I overwhelm myself with the things I still want and the sudden realization of how many years I’ve already used up already. I’m not sure how common these feelings are, I suspect given the current weight of change we’re all bearing, pretty common.
But here’s the thing. All of this is teaching me powerful lessons about hope. Not the fluffy, shallow and meaningless kind. The kind we speak about with a smile and treat like it’s a gentle butterfly we don’t want to risk hurting. No, not that kind of hope at all.
I’m learning about hope that’s gritty, rusty, maybe even a little bit cracked and not altogether pretty to look on at first. I’m learning about hope as an act of defiance and determination. I’m learning about hope as part of the mental programming we need to build the lives only we can: our own.
I’m learning more than ever, just how important it is to hit the reboot button on life and to just keep moving forward.
It’s ironic how powerful this mantra has become for me. I had no idea at the beginning of the year when I selected these two phrases as my year’s words just how prophetic and foreshadowing they were. And I had no idea just how much they’d help me get through.
The thing I’m learning about hope is that you don’t have to believe in it at first, you just have to choose it enough times to let it take root. You have to protect it until it grows into something more.
Maybe that’s the sum of all great acts of faith, and maybe the very essence of hope itself: it isn’t about starting with a full tank of faith, but choosing to keep driving in the direction of the gas station anyway.
Something to keep in mind, powerful advice from Neil Gaiman:
I’m not hopeful to build just another boring life that meets the unspoken expectations of faceless strangers holding onto tired traditions and half-truths that may never have really been mine to start with. Milestones, accomplishments by specific ages, falling in line and working the standard shifts, they just ain’t for me.
I want more. And not only is there nothing wrong with that, I think it’s part of our soul’s deepest essence. It is the passed down remains of that first stolen fire that Prometheus brought back from the mount, god-fire for the soul. It is fire for the fuel to not only survive but to outright thrive in the face of every adversity.
And when you look at it like that, milestones are weak by comparison. Why live my life building up to all these expectations that I simply go along with instead of determine for myself? Who knows better than me when my life is ready for one life changing event or another?
I am a partner with providence, and as such, the creator of my own milestones, and the architect of my own life’s schedule.
Maybe life events will change that schedule, I’ll roll with it when it does. But societal expectations are mine to yield to or to push past.
And that is the real lesson I’m beginning to understand from all of these piled up thoughts and stressful nights where sleep and bucket list both seem to evade me.
Life is mine to determine, even when chance changes the course on me.
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